Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis
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Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis

3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  421 ratings  ·  101 reviews
A year in Paris . . . since World War II, countless American students have been lured by that vision—and been transformed by their sojourn in the City of Light. Dreaming in French tells three stories of that experience, and how it changed the lives of three extraordinary American women.

All three women would go on to become icons, key figures in American cultural, intellect...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 2nd 2012 by University Of Chicago Press (first published February 29th 2012)
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Cheryl
Alice Kaplan has written a captivating biography of three Americans, Jacqueline Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis during the year each spent in Paris in early adulthood. Along with lessons learned, language and culture absorbed, and viewpoints crystalized, the book tells the story of aesthetic, bohemian, and political Paris. Each woman was influenced by different aspects of the city which later defined their contributions to America.

For Jacqueline Kennedy, the Paris aesthetic began with he...more
Ryan
Aug 25, 2012 Ryan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Katherine, Diane
The title drew me in. My mom used to theorize that young girls fell in love with French or horses - she and I seem to have been horse people, my sister a French person - and that memory was enough to pick up the book and take a look. I know who all the women of this book are, but none of them had ever been of particular interest. They all fit into different segments of the various Histories encountered in school. What made this book intriguing was linking them through their common experience of...more
Jimmie
Being something of an amateur Francophile, I read this book on a whim, but then was pleasantly surprised to find it full of some unexpected personal historical references. The common thread for three otherwise diverse personalities, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, is the fact that they all spent around a year studying abroad in France during the formative years of their early adulthood. In 1962-63, I also spent year and a half of my early adulthood in France, not as a...more
Zöe Yu
Was keeping this book until the moment I have to return it. But I still didn't go over the other two wonderful women's part. I think that is my narrowness, that's how scholar/ university learning narrows you down. I took this book as a reference book on Susan Sontag, so I was reading Susan Sontag's part closely, ignoring the other two.

But the Sontag part was very good, given the fact that this book is so well-structured, I mean, organized in a way, you want to read it systematically. It reveals...more
Sarah
3.5 stars. The section on Jackie O was really enjoyable because it was more biographical--this is what she did, this is where she went (and yes, I admit I liked the "this is what she wore"). Susan Sontag and Angela Davis are fascinating characters, but their sections were so much drier and less chatty, I almost felt like I was reading an academic text at times. I love the idea of this book, taking three wildly interesting and divergent people, with this one thing in common (and "a year in Paris"...more
Steve
Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Three very bright young women who shaped by time spent studying in Paris. By the end of the 1970's they would be iconic figures in the chaotic storm that is American culture. Not only would Paris shape them as students, later on in adulthood they would return to the city of lights. In all three cases, as very famous women. I really enjoyed this book because I gained insight into what Paris means personally and how it goes with you even after yo...more
Jenny McPhee
HOW TO BE LOST: SEX (RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER) IN THE CITY OF LIGHT: My March column at Bookslut


After graduating from college, I headed to Paris to study contemporary French philosophy -- Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze -- and semiotics with Julia Kristeva. I spent most evenings contemplating the meaning of life while drinking Scotch in a gay bar in the Marais. I lived in a series of chambres de bonne with a Turkish toilet down the hall and had a boyfriend in New York, a lover in Italy, and ano...more
LAPL Reads
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis were three American women who, in their youth, spent time studying and living in Paris. Based on extensive research in archives in the United States and France, Alice Kaplan examines the lasting effects of the women's experiences which formed a lifelong French connection for all three. Living in France would sustain, nourish, and confirm a sense of independence and uniqueness in each of their lives. All three were outsiders within their...more
Amber
I really wanted to love this book because it combined many elements I enjoy reading about. Though I admit the Jackie Bouvier and Angela Davis sections where exciting, the Susan Sontag section lagged. And honestly, I had a hard time finding connections with these three women. Yes, all three of them were a part of Parisian study abroad programs and became luminaries in American life...but it just didn't do it for me.
Gary the SophistiCat
I started out really liking this but my interest dropped off (terminally) as I tried to make sense out of the political controversy swirling around Angela Davis. It seemed to me that the thread holding the three stories together (the influence of study-abroad years in Paris) snapped. Maybe I should have soldiered on but I just didn't care anymore. C'est dommage!
S'hi
There are many threads of influence woven into these prominent women’s lives by the experience of studying in Paris in their early years. By the writer’s experience of the world in this way, there is also a sense of hope to be just as influential in her own way by the contribution she makes in the lives of others through her unique perspective through her writing.
A massive undertaking of research and selection to chart change over a thirty year period – both in the host city of Paris, and in the...more
Sally
I absolutely loved reading this! The Jackie part was kinda blah, but the Susan Sontag and Angela Davis sections were fascinating. I loved how Alice Kaplan weaved three seemingly unrelated stories together and showed how these women's lives were connected to each other and to a city so many people love.
Kim G
May 07, 2012 Kim G rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
I can't recommend this one. It's terribly dry and, despite the academic tone, it lacks heft; there are a lot of beautifully articulated sentences, but they remind me of a lot of sentences I wrote in college essays -- finely crafted bullsh*t, but bullsh*t all the same.
Simeen
I did not enjoy the book at all. For starters, I've never understood the great fascination with and admiration for Jackie Kennedy so this was hard to get through. Maybe I'm not old enough to appreciate her, but the first chapters dedicated to her made me roll my eyes left and right. Jackie's letters home didn't talk about "girlish" things like her classmates would have written; she was too sophisticated for that! In a photograph of young people, one stands out above the rest for her style and gr...more
Emily
3 interesting women, one very boring book
Valerie
This book examines how Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis were influenced by time spent in France during their early 20s. For JK and AD, this meant college study abroad programs during two very different times: just after World War 2 in JK's case, and in the wake of Algerian independence from France in AD's case. Susan Sontag followed a lover to Paris in the 1950s, but didn't formally study in France. The sections of this book devoted to JK and AD are the strongest: how learn...more
Jaylia3
Though on the surface they don’t have a lot in common, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis have each been at the forefront of cultural revolutions in style, art, intellect and/or politics. They also each spent a student year in France, and in this absorbing and well researched book Alice Kaplan explores how their lives and work were enriched by their continuing sense of connection with that country. Besides offering unique insights into the backgrounds and accomplishments o...more
Ari
"Jacqueline Bouvier arrived with her upper-class connections; Susan Sontag, the self-invented European, with her opinions; Angela Davis, with her sense of justice and her fearlessness. They were in their twenties, reaching that existentential threshold where you start to see what you can do with what you've been given. France was the place where they could become themselves, or protect themselves from what they didn't want to become, as products of their families, their societies. Their Parisia...more
angela
Dreaming in French needs a different title. Yes, each of these women studied in Paris, and were influenced by French culture, but the focus is not really Paris, nor France. It is a worthwhile read, but a bit disjointed in its delivery and theory.

I must admit, I skimmed the Kennedy section. I've never been terribly intrigued by Camelot, ergo, JBK life was not a focus. What I did learn about Kennedy via the Sontag section was that she was far more the intellectual than one would assume. I now won...more
Lily
This was lovely, I wish I was reading it in Paris. Detailing the study abroad years and subsequent ties to France and French culture of Jackie Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, this book actually felt very disjointed. I mean these three women don't exactly occupy the same space in American history and certainly didn't overlap in their lives. But it was still a really interesting sliver of a biography. Jackie Kennedy, what a bizarrely fêted person, only ever praised and remembered for her...more
Linda
I loved this book for many reasons. It is very well researched and written, bringing an awareness to the readers of the significance of foreign influences on the 3 highlighted women. Their lives were totally shaped by their experiences in France. I knew quite a bit about Jackie Kennedy's studies in France and her adoption of French arts and manners and language, but I was not aware of Sontag and Davis's French connections. It was a whole new way of seeing Angela Davis and a new appreciation of h...more
Samuel Zaber
Jan 03, 2013 Samuel Zaber rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Late American history fans, Francophiles,
Recommended to Samuel by: Grandmother
The primary myth of self-identification that we Americans have created is one of independence. Despite the fact that our nation and its culture are drawn from nations and cultures around the world we like to see ourselves as self reliant, the shining city on an isolated hill, a group of hard-up settlers who transformed the wilderness in paradise with nothing but our own hands. While most of us can probably agree that this myth holds little truth it can be disturbingly easy to lose ourselves in t...more
Kacy
May 18, 2012 Kacy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: france
I attended a book reading by the author recently and it was amazing to learn of the number of people Ms. Kaplan tracked down and talked to while writing the book. She made a conscious decision not to contact Angela Davis, but to focus on her as she did the others - by talking to friends and associates and delving into their libraries.

I was surprised that the author actually had new things to say about Jackie that the general public doesn't already know.

Susan Sontag was somewhat of a mystery to...more
Marissa
"Dreaming in French" is more analytical and scholarly-minded than its romantic title would suggest. It's a study of how three important mid-century American women were shaped by spending time in Paris in their early twenties. The women are considered as individual personalities, but also as stand-ins for the different types of young women who tend to become attracted to French culture: Jacqueline Bouvier the aesthete, Susan Sontag the intellectual, and Angela Davis the revolutionary.

In the case...more
Sharon
I checked out this book from the library for both myself and my mom. She has a long-standing interest in Jacqueline Kennedy, and I'm interested in both Angela Davis and Susan Sontag. The idea that the time all the women spent in Paris (at different times) had left such an indelible impression on all three is a terrific hook. The Kennedy material was familiar. I knew very little about the Davis material, having only encountered her writing in things like "Women, Race and Class" so I found that fa...more
Kayle
Mar 11, 2013 Kayle added it
I have a special love-disdain relationship with books about people's experience in La Belle France. They almost always focus on Paris exclusively and romanticize a city that is lovely, but not without flaws. This book states it's purpose clearly in the title which serves as a thesis for the sections of the book. Focusing on three dynamic American women's experiences in the City of Light it tries and succeeds in portraying Paris as conceived and adopted by Jacqueline, Susan and Angela. I enjoyed...more
Suzanne
I bought this book for the section on Jackie Kennedy. As another lover of French, I really enjoyed reading more about her lifetime interaction with France and French. It was fun to remember her TV program on the decoration of the White House and her trip to Paris with JFK. Fun also to note things I have in common with her, like having studied 17th century French literature in French, and being able to communicate in French, German, and Spanish. I was surprised to find out later on that Angela Da...more
Kathryn Bashaar
This book wasn't as good as I thought it would be. I didn't really expect to like Sontag or Davis & I didn't. I liked the part about Jackie Kennedy the best. But the part about Angela Davis was interesting. I remember how sensational her case was when I was a young girl, but I was too young to remember the details, so that was interesting to learn about. The author did a good job of showing how each young woman's time in France impacted her life and her impact on others. But I guess I expect...more
Chloe
I borrowed this from the local library, but I will need to buy a copy, because I need to mark it up and make notes throughout. The book is well researched and well written, and goes into great depth and breadth for such a short book. I intend to use my copy when I buy it as a sort of bibliography to work through on 20th century Franco-American intellectual history. I read this concurrently with Fenby's biography of de Gaulle, "The General," the events of which overlap with "Dreaming in French."...more
Mary
This book overall offered a nice escape, yet I felt that the author was making too much effort to connect these women and France.

I found the presentation of Jackie's story fascinating and engaging - beyond the chronology - hers was a great start to the book. Her French influence was probably the most convincing of the three women.

The presentation of Sonia's connection to France came across as self-absorbed and quite boring.

Granted the presentation of Angela's story was of redeemable quality as f...more
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